The (Not-So) Scary Monsters Of Old Japan

Monday July 30, 2018 Written by Sam Wilson

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Anyone familiar with movie monsters like Godzilla, Mothra, Barugon and Gamera would know that the Japanese are in a league of their own when it comes to dreaming up fiendish creatures. But many moons before these classic cinematic beasties burst onto the silver screen, the fantastical monsters of the Bakemono zukushi were feeding the imaginations of Edo-era audiences.

This antique scroll, illustrated by an unknown artist in the 18th or 19th century, depicts a ghoulish gallery of mythical beings known as yokai. According to folklore expert Michael Dylan Foster, a yokai is:

“a weird or mysterious creature, a monster or fantastic being, a spirit or a sprite … creatures of the borderlands, living on the edge of town, or in the mountains between villages, or in the eddies of a river running between two rice fields. They often appear at twilight, that gray time when the familiar seems strange and faces become indistinguishable. They haunt bridges and tunnels, entranceways and thresholds. They lurk at crossroads.”

Rocking a range of strangely endearing traits like bug eyes, demonic grins and plump animal bodies, many of the Bakemono zukushi’s monsters wouldn’t be out of place in a kids’ picture book or old-school comic.

Meet a few of our faves:

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Who needs Caspar the Ghost when you’ve got the rotund Hajikkaki?

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Despite those spiky gnashers, Nobusuma falls at what can only be described as the cute end of the scary spectrum.

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Meanwhile, the cow-headed, spider-bodied, machete-clawed Ushi-oni resembles the kind of vision you might have after consuming the wrong kind of mushroom.

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We can only hope the hairy, char-toothed Odoroshi emits a putrid smell worthy of its name.

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With one big, bulging eye in the back of its head and a single clawed finger, Oyajirome resembles nothing so much as an alien from Tom-Baker era Dr Who.

Thanks to the International Center for Japanese Studies, all 24 monsters from the scroll have been digitised for your viewing pleasure.